Synopses & Reviews
A Sentry with troubled bowels discovered the body. A shock it must have been for the boy. He fired off his rifle and the Good Lord knows what else, then ran up through the mud and fog to his camp. I do not fault the lad, you understand. A soldier may be brave easily enough with his comrades all about him. But a boy new to service, touched with sickness and with the autumn chill upon him, such a one might be forgiven a wallop of fear when he tumbles over a dead officer in the pursuit of a winkle of privacy.
He should not have left his post, of course. That he should not have done. But they were all the greenest of soldiers in those days. As green as Gwent. Their days were full of drill and boasting, but well I know the nights of a soldiers doubt. So I understand what the lad felt, when he found the fairest of young men bedded down in the morning dark with a bullet through his heart.
The rest arrived at a run, slopping down through the mire the storm had left, and a dangerous pack they were. Lads in their unmentionables, with cartridge boxes flapping and rifles poorly handled. Sergeants bellowed. Company officers stumbled as they tried to run and draw on their boots at the same time, tripping over swords they had not mastered. Wet and weary they were. And some fool blasted a bugle.
When no one fired back, they settled a bit, and the light rose. Young Private Haney -- for that was his name -- blundered in leading a party down to his discovery. They slipped in the muck of the hillside, where the men had torn away each last twig for their campfires, and cursed relentlessly, though profanity helps no man. At last, they reached the body, down in the ravine, lying a pistol shot from the military road. They told me the dead man looked like an angel fallen to earth, but some of them were Irish and given to adorning language.
Later, they would all learn a muchness of death. More than any man should know. But let that bide. Their regiment was too new to have been at Bull Run, and the corpse was the first most of the men had seen. I do not count those taken by typhoid and the like, for that is a natural thing. This death was unnatural, and they knew it in their souls. The newspapermen wrote that the dead officer possessed the countenance and voice of a sweet, blessed saint. They had written that even before his death, after which no commentary might be trusted. The young man was known, and beloved, and should have lived long.
The soldiers who stood over his body were rugged lads from the highlands of New York, hill farmers. They were not great readers of the newspapers, and they certainly would not have left their fields for a lecture on the evils of slavery. They were men who worked hard, tillers with settled eyes and small expectations even in their youth, and their shoulders were oxen. They admired the officer in his death, but could not fix him with a name, and only stood about, uncertain what to do, looking down on his beauty. He was not oftheir regiment, and not of their world. Not even a sergeant dared touch his fine blue coat.
It took the officers to recognize him. Officers are terrible ones for spotting the bad in a situation, and not a few soon make it worse. I spoke with them later, in the course of my inquiry, and they told me how it was. At first, they, too, caught, the fear of an attack and went about rallying the men -- valiantly, to hear them tell it -- but with the climbing of the light Captain Steele made his way down to the party gathered over the corpse. He thought he knew the face that lay before him, but he had been a lawyer before he took up arms and went cautiously about things. He waited until Major Campbell, the adjutant, joined him.
Now Campbell was a great Scotsman, and they are devils in the morning, see. He come down barking and settling his belt, sword in his hand. He had been a politician in his county, and that sort is ever more given to speech than to thought, although base calculation is not beyond them. The men moved aside for their major, and he saw the still, white face with its frame of golden hair, and brayed for all the world.
"Well, I'll be damned and resurrected," he said, and I am certain he was half correct. "That's Anthony Fowler."
It was a death that changed my life.
In this "winning blend of history and mystery" (Booklist), Owen Parry brings to life the story of Abel Jones, a Welsh immigrant and Union army enlistee. Jones finds himself mysteriously chosen as confidential agent to General George McClellan, the "savior of the Union." No stranger to the cruel paradoxes of war, Jones is asked to investigate the death of Anthony Fowler, a young volunteer captain shot through the heart. Instantly, his murder is blamed on the Confederates. But whispers haunt the death of this fallen martyr, leading Abel Jones from the blood of the battlefield through the intrigues of Washington, D.C., and into a web of secrets and sinister relationships where evil and good intertwine . . . and where heroes fall prey to those who cherished them the most.
About the Author
Owen Parry is the author of two previous novels featuring Major Abel Jones: Faded Coat of Blue, winner of the Herodotus Award, and Shadows of Glory, which was selected as one of the Best Books of the Year by the Washington Post and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Fascinated by the Civil War since childhood, Parry wrote his first book on the subject, a history of the conflict, at age twelve. That book was ultimately rejected by an interested publisher, which proved fortunate for Mr. Parry's subsequent writing career, since young Owen, with the best intentions, had made extremely liberal use of the work of others. He has since learned more of the etiquette of writing, and a little more of life.